Television

'We are developing a 100 per cent Indian company' : G Krishnan - TV Today Network CEO

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 TV Today Network Ltd. has been very conservative in expanding its footprint. While TV news organisations Network18 and NDTV Ltd. have scaled up their business model to work out a non news empire, the Aroon Purie-promoted company has stuck to its basic strength of running a string of news channels.

Holding tight the purse strings, TV Today has stayed a profit-focussed company. Flagship Hindi news channel Aaj Tak continues to be the market leader while Tez and Dilli Aaj Tak are add-on channels serving targeted spaces. English general news channel Headlines Today has got a new positioning of being "refreshingly different."

The company intends to merge Radio Today Broadcasting Ltd, a group firm, with itself. TV Today, which currently holds 10 per cent in Radio Today, believes the synergy will help it to pocket local advertising much more efficiently.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das, TV Today Network CEO G Krishnan talks about the company's plans to launch more news channels to service the need gap while stressing on the need to get it correct.

Excerpts:

Why has TV Today been reluctant to scale up like TV18 or NDTV when it is sitting on Rs 1.7 billion of cash on books?

Some media companies have tied up with international majors to fund their expansion. We are developing a 100 per cent Indian company. But we will have more channel roll outs. We are firming up a robust business plan. We are looking at all possibilities and are taking our time as we want to do it correctly.

Will you wait for digitalisation to take off in a big way before adding more channels?

We are studying the feasibility of launching niche channels. Distribution is currently the major cost in the P&L (profit and loss) account. However if we feel there is potential in any space in the long term, we will look at launching channels to service the need gap.

Isn't TV Today too dependent on flagship Hindi news channel Aaj Tak with Tez and Dilli Aaj Tak being low-cost channels?

Media companies tend to depend on a single flagship channel. Star India has Star Plus as the main revenue channel while in case of Zee, it is Zee TV. But Headlines Today is growing and targeted channels like Tez and Dilli Aaj Tak contribute both to our turnover and our profitability. Tez has shorter news wheels while Dilli Aaj Tak is a Delhi/NCR specific Hindi news channel with the content led by utility in the capital region.

TV Today had floated a wholly owned subsidiary company, TV Today Network (Business) Ltd, a few years back and was talking to American financial and business news major Bloomberg. Are the plans to launch a business news channel still alive?

Bloomberg was talking to several players at that stage. We are still open to launching a business news channel, with or without partners.

Are there any big plans for Headlines Today?

Headlines Today has been on the growth track with the new positioning of "refreshingly different" and targeting the younger audience. We will further consolidate our position and launch more properties to strengthen the various time bands.

'News channels are paying Rs 5 billion as carriage fee. It is for us as a group of broadcasters to see if we can ensure that this doesn't gallop further'

Do you see a slowdown in the Indian economy affecting the TV news organisations?

The TV news market, pegged at Rs 10 billion, is growing at 17 per cent. The size of the Hindi news market is Rs 6 billion while English general news channels make about Rs 2 billion. The healthy thing is that each segment is growing. The English business news space will see market expansion when the Times of India Group launches its product in this segment.

Aren't a rise in carriage and personnel costs a worrying feature?

News channels are paying Rs 5 billion as carriage fee. The surge in distribution costs is killing the industry. It is for us as a group of broadcasters to see if we can ensure that this doesn't gallop further. The personnel cost has not grown at an alarming pace for us in the last fiscal (Rs 552 million compared to Rs 445 million in FY'07). For some networks, though, the rise in costs will be really tough.

The new players also should stick to reasonable ad rates. Everybody is hoping that good sense would prevail and the market shouldn't be spoilt.

TV Today's revenue jumped 22 per cent to Rs 2.3 billion in FY'08. Was this driven by an ad rate hike and improved utilisation of Headlines Today?

We had an effective ad rate hike of 12-13 per cent in the last fiscal. We have further increased our rates by 8-9 per cent in July.

Was the 43 per cent surge in net profit to Rs 435.5 million led by an income in international distribution?

We made Rs 100 million from international distribution. We plan to take both Aaj Tak and Headlines Today to Canada. We are doing research to assess that market.

Do you see domestic pay revenues kicking in this year?

We are a pay channel and are part of the One Alliance bouquet. We have turned pay in select markets as we do not want to lose our viewership and ratings. We will see distribution income grow.

Zee News Ltd. has started the franchising model to have a footprint in the smaller markets. Do you see this as a growth model you would like to follow?

We have not explored the franchising model. We feel launching our products directly in the marketplace is a better route.

TV Today is in the process of merging Radio Today Broadcasting Ltd, a fellow subsidiary company, with itself. Why?

The radio business will synergise with our TV business. We will tap local advertisers.

If the government allows news on private FM radio, will we see a radical change in positioning from its current talk show format for women?

We will have a heavy dose of news. And the synergy will work. When we launch more local channels in other markets, it will add strength to our radio advertising revenues.
What has been the progress made by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) on the Content Code?

The NBA is putting systems in place for a content code based on self-regulation for news television channels. We understand the need for a self-regulatory system and are aggressively pursuing it. We have formed the 'News Broadcasting Standards (Disputes Redressal) Authority' to enforce NBA's code of ethics and broadcasting standards. The authority will become operational from 2 October.

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